Q: Should I avoid no-stir peanut butter? Is natural-style nut butter that separates more healthful for me?
A: Nut butters can be grouped into two camps: the stir kind and the no-stir kind.
How can you tell?
Check the ingredients label.
If you see just one ingredient—peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, or whatever type of legume/nut/seed tickles your fancy—that's the most natural kind. As a result, the oil rises to the top.
Falling into the no-stir camp are the smooth, creamy nut butters that many of us grew up with. The no-stir convenience of these butters is due to the hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, or trans fats, you'll find listed on the ingredients label. Hydrogenated oils are created by heating unsaturated fats, such as vegetable oil, at high temperatures and adding hydrogen gas; this process turns liquid fats solid at room temperature, increasing the shelf life of food products, but also raising the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
As a more healthful alternative to hydrogenated oils, a number of natural nut butter manufacturers are adding palm fruit oil, which is semisolid at room temperature. While palm fruit oil contains some saturated fats, which help solidify the nut butter, it's free of harmful trans fats. You will want to look for evidence that the palm fruit oil is organic or sustainably sourced. Many palm oil plantations have razed rain forest and endangered wildlife habitat. The reality is, even no-stir nut butters with palm fruit oil (or sometimes coconut oil) require some stirring. So if you don't mind keeping stir-required nut butters upside down in the fridge—which is a great tip for preventing the puddle of oil at the top—do it!